Chris (far right) and NWAS community resuscitation development officer, Steve Nicholls (far left), with members of Parkside Community Club (image courtesy of the Leigh Reporter)

Chris (far right) and NWAS community resuscitation development officer, Steve Nicholls (far left), with members of Parkside Community Club (image courtesy of the Leigh Reporter)

Edge Hill Paramedic Practice student Chris Ashton is making a difference to the lives of more than 23,000 people through a voluntary project to install life-saving medical equipment in public places across Cheshire.

Chris has encouraged schools and sports centres in the towns of Golborne and Lowton to install easy-to-use defibrillators, and also trained many staff, pupils and members of the public to use them and perform CPR in emergency situations.

Defibrillators, that administer electric shocks to the patient’s heart to restore the heartbeat, can mean the difference between life and death. In towns that don’t have their own ambulance station, response times may be slightly longer depending on ambulance locations, so access to defibrillators is vital.

In cardiac arrest situations, every minute that passes with no defibrillator can reduce the patient’s chance of survival by 10%,” says Chris. “Having a defibrillator available – and, more importantly, giving people the confidence to use it in an emergency – saves lives.”

As a trained paramedic, acting quickly in cardiac arrest situations is second nature to Chris. But it wasn’t until his 8-year-old son collapsed with a suspected heart problem that he realised the full impact of having the right equipment to hand.

“Fortunately, my son collapsed at home so I was able to help him,” says Chris, who has worked for the NWAS for 13 years, “but it struck me that if it had happened at school, the outcome might have been very different. I wanted to do something to improve safety, not just for my child in the future, but for all the children and staff in his school.”

Chris approached the head teacher of Lowton St Mary’s Primary School about the possibility of installing a defibrillator and was delighted with the positive response.

“That one conversation really got the ball rolling,” says Chris.

Now, almost all of the key public places, including Asda and both sports centres, as well as schools in Golborne and nearby Lowton, have access to defibrillators and also have people trained in resuscitation techniques, which is very reassuring for the whole community.”

Chris’s voluntary work has drawn praise from Shadow Health Secretary and Leigh MP, Andy Burnham, who is spearheading a national campaign to set a minimum requirement on the location of defibrillators. He is hoping to use Golborne & Lowton as an example of best practice when the subject is debated in Parliament.

“Fortunately, the defibrillators have only been used once, when a man collapsed at the Sports Club in the town,” says Chris. “His life was saved by three people that had been trained only weeks before, who were able to use the defibrillator before the paramedics arrived.

“You don’t really want to hear lots of stories about them being used, to be honest,” laughs Chris. “If installing defibrillators across Golborne and Lowton only saves that one man’s life, then it has been worth it.”

In Britain, thousands of people every year suffer sudden cardiac arrest in public places. At present, the survival rate is 2-12% – compared to 49% in other places, such as hospitals. Research shows that use of a defibrillator within five minutes of collapse provides the best possible chance of survival.